In my Leaders are Offensive post last week, we dug into culture’s current obsession with “being offended.” We’ve established that to truly lead, you must rise above the fray. But how?

Leaders don’t apologize for their thoughts, words, ideas, or points of view when others find them offensive. Just like failure, offending is not a crime. Can you imagine Steve Jobs apologizing for the Apple Newton, the major failure that laid the groundwork for the iPhone and iPad? Treat offending the same way.

Genuine leaders realize that there is a harmful assumption lying under the rash of public apologies and push for political correctness. That assumption is this: that one person can actually offend another by something they do or say. No one can offend without the permission of the person who is offended. By not apologizing, leaders don’t play the ludicrous “offending” game that distracts us from real issues and challenges.

An important caveat: Do not confuse not apologizing for ideas with refusing to analyze your own thoughts. All-In Leaders are willing to reexamine their thinking and paradigms when they no longer work. It’s worth noting that in the late 1970s, Governor Wallace––whom I recognized as a true leader in my Leaders are Offensive posting––apologized to Civil Rights leaders and renounced segregation. But he did not apologize for causing offense. Wallace apologized for what he recognized as real wrongs after reexamining his thinking and embracing a new paradigm.

My parents and grandparents instilled three realizations that many of my fellow citizens either never learned or have forgotten.

  1. I have total control over my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I sit in the captain’s chair of my mind. It takes orders from me. I work intentionally to make sure I never relinquish the helm to my mind, to anyone, or anything.
  1. There are an infinite number of interpretations of any event or circumstance. People who do not realize this will often confuse what was said or done with their initial emotional response to the event. For example, someone may say, “He offended me by saying X.” But it was their own interpretation of what was said that caused the offending, not the statement itself. In many cases, the offended individual may even repeat what was said inaccurately because they have latched on to one piece or even a single word that prompted a strong emotional response within them.

In reality, the reactor is choosing to be offended, which leads to the third realization.

  1. I have the power to choose the interpretation of any event. Interpretation is choice. As a leader, I can choose a specific understanding of a situation that makes me feel the way I want to feel, furthers my own agenda, and serves me and my followers well.

I cannot image going through life without these realizations—without any defense against others’ words and deeds. I pity those who do. It must be a living hell to be at the emotional mercy of any event or circumstance that comes one’s way.

Every leader worth his salt must recognize and exercise these three realizations. When you do, you can shape understandings of events and circumstances in ways that can serve you, your followers, and your mission best. I believe it was these three levels of awareness that empowered King to choose loving, peaceful civil disobedience in response to the hateful, violent opposition he and his followers faced.

Nothing anyone says or does can offend or harm me. No circumstance can upset me. My grandparents and parents knew this when they taught me, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Without these realizations, All-In Leadership cannot exist. Are you All-In?

Craving more? If, like me, you are concerned about the lack of emotional intelligence our children are acquiring, you might find value in this short video. As you view the video, if you find yourself being offended, please consider re-reading this post. And, please understand that by posting it, I am not endorsing of anything else of its producers.